Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
John 5:28-29 KJV
You may have heard this illustration used in an evangelical sermon. You are standing before God, and He asks you this question, "Why should I let you into My heaven?" The correct answer of course is to say something to the effect that you are trusting in nothing but the merits of Christ, or that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. At this reply, God now allows you entrance into the kingdom.
I understand that this illustration is used to show that apart from Christ there is no salvation, and I agree with this. Only those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and have been born again by the Spirit of God will enter into the presence of God in His kingdom. However, nowhere in the scriptures do we find God asking us why He should allow us into heaven. It is not there. This is not how it will be on the day of judgment. A well meaning pastor or evangelist may use this illustration to present the gospel, but it is not an accurate description of what the judgment of God will be based on.
According to the words of Jesus in John 5:28-29, we see that those who have done good will be resurrected unto life, and those who have done evil, will be resurrected unto damnation. Jesus also states that not everyone who claims Him as Lord will enter heaven; only those who do the will of the Father (Matt 7:21). What about the sheep and goats judgment found in Matthew 25:31-46. Here again, Jesus is basing His judgment upon deeds. In this case they are deeds of love and mercy. Those who have shown compassion and love are bid entrance into God's kingdom. Those who have not, are cast out. Was Jesus teaching legalism here? Is He saying that we earn our salvation by doing good deeds, and keeping the commandments? Absolutely not!
Read what Paul writes in Romans. This sounds similar to what Jesus states in John 5.
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds. To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to them who are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile; for there is no respect of persons with God. For as many have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
Romans 2:5-16 KJV
Many of us may read this and think that Paul is preaching works. We may think to ourselves that this cannot mean what it seems to be saying. After all, isn't Paul the "Apostle of Faith?" Doesn't he teach us elsewhere in Romans, as well in his epistles, that salvation is of grace by faith, and not of works? Yet we have just read that those who persist in doing good will receive eternal life, while the disobedient, and workers of unrighteousness will face wrath, tribulation, and anguish. Again, we read Paul's words, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
Again in 2 Corinthians 5, The Apostle Paul states that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, where we will be recompensed for the things which we have done in our bodies, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10). This follows what we have already seen, God's judgment will be based upon our deeds, whether good or bad. We will receive from Him accordingly.
In the book of Revelation, we read the account of the great white throne of judgment,
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:13-15 KJV
The books, containing the record of their deeds, were opened, and men were judged according to these deeds. You can be certain that no one judged as guilty in this way, might still be found in the book of life. Their deeds are the final proof that they have no spiritual life within them. God's judgment will be a righteous judgment (Acts 17:31). He will show no partiality, He has no favorites. His standard is absolute. We can be assured of this fact.
The point is this: God demands obedience. Simply put, an individual who obeys the traffic laws does not need to fear the Highway Patrol car that is approaching. But if he has been speeding, he can expect to be pulled over. He has been caught and the officer has the evidence. When Paul states that those who obey the law are justified (Romans 2:13), he is stating the fact that God desires obedience, and if we are obedient, we are pleasing to Him. Of course if we are disobedient, we are guilty before Him, and must face the penalty.
Jesus tells us plainly that those who love Him will obey Him.If we are disobedient to His commands, we do not love Him. It is that simple (John 14:21-24). What really counts in the eyes of God is a faith that works by love (Gal 5:6). True faith in Christ will work itself out in a loving obedience to the commands of God. If it does not, it is not faith (James 2:14-26).
The Bible tells us that those who have their minds set on the flesh are in opposition to God. They will not subject themselves to the law of God (Romans 8:5-8). In Galatians we read of the works of the flesh,
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21 NASB
To mind the flesh is to live for yourself. It is selfishness; not caring how your actions affect others, or God. When we live in disregard of God's law, the above mentioned sins become rampant in our lives. Jesus tells us that it is out of the heart of man that evil actions come,
And He said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all of these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
Mark 7:20-23 KJV
To sum it up, our actions are a direct reflection of what is in our hearts. We are what we do! If we tell lies we are a liar. If we commit sexual immorality we are a fornicator. One who commits adultery is an adulterer. An alcoholic is a drunkard, and a covetous person is an idolater (Eph 5:5). What we do is who we are. Our deeds flow out of our heart. This is how God can fairly, and with complete impartiality, judge us according to our works.
This is why we need a Savior, not only to forgive us our past life of sin, but to change our hearts and life as well. The Bible also tells us that if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old way of life is gone, and the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). We also read that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, and the one born of God no longer sins (1 John 3:5-8). This is not to say that the possibility of sin does not exist, but a true child of God will live a radically transformed life free from the power and dominion of sin. If one should sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one (1 John 2:1). If we walk by the Spirit we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). I once read a quote that went something like this, "The Spirit of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you." You see, as born again, obedient, followers of Jesus Christ, we can stand before Him on the day of judgment with confidence instead of shame. Instead of our works condemning us, they will justify us; that is prove that we are true children of God, living our lives for Him.